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GloFish, the first genetically modified animal to be sold as a pet

A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species through the process of transgenesis. Some GMOs contain no DNA from other species and are therefore not transgenic but cisgenic.


The general principle of producing a GMO is to add new genetic material into an organism's genome. This is called genetic engineering and was made possible through the discovery of DNA and the creation of the first recombinant bacteria in 1973, i.e., E .coli expressing a salmonella gene.[1] This led to concerns in the scientific community about potential risks from genetic engineering, which were thoroughly discussed at the Asilomar Conference. One of the main recommendations from this meeting was that government oversight of recombinant DNA research should be established until the technology was deemed safe.[2][3] Herbert Boyer then founded the first company to use recombinant DNA technology, Genentech, and in 1978 the company announced creation of an E. coli strain producing the human protein insulin.[4]

In 1986, field tests of bacteria genetically engineered to protect plants from frost damage (ice-minus bacteria) at a small biotechnology company called Advanced Genetic Sciences of Oakland, California, were repeatedly delayed by opponents of biotechnology. In the same year, a proposed field test of a microbe genetically engineered for a pest resistance protein by Monsanto was dropped.


GMOs have widespread applications. They are used in biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine (e.g. gene therapy), and agriculture (e.g. golden rice). The term "genetically modified organism" does not always imply, but can include, targeted insertions of genes from one species into another. For example, a gene from a jellyfish, encoding a fluorescent protein called GFP, can be physically linked and thus co-expressed with mammalian genes to identify the location of the protein encoded by the GFP-tagged gene in the mammalian cell. Such methods are useful tools for biologists in many areas of research, including those who study the mechanisms of human and other diseases or fundamental biological processes in eukaryotic or prokaryotic cells.

To date the broadest application of GMO technology is patent-protected food crops which are resistant to commercial herbicides or are able to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant, or stacked trait seeds, which do both. The largest share of the GMO crops planted globally are owned by Monsanto according to the company. In 2007, Monsanto’s trait technologies were planted on 246 million acres throughout the world, a growth of 13 percent from 2006.

Transgenic animals are also becoming useful commercially. On 6 February 2009 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first human biological drug produced from such an animal, a goat. The drug, ATryn, is an anticoagulant which reduces the probability of blood clots during surgery or childbirth. It is extracted from the goat's milk.[5]

Transgenic animals

Transgenic animals are used as experimental models to perform phenotypic tests with genes whose function is unknown. Genetic modification can also produce animals that are susceptible to certain compounds or stresses for testing in biomedical research.[6] Other applications include the production of human hormones such as insulin.

In biological research, transgenic fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) are model organisms used to study the effects of genetic changes on development.[7] Fruit flies are often preferred over other animals due to their short life cycle, low maintenance requirements, and relatively simple genome compared to many vertebrates. Transgenic mice are often used to study cellular and tissue-specific responses to disease. This is possible since mice can be created with the same mutations that occur in human genetic disorders, the production of the human disease in these mice then allows treatments to be tested.[8]

Transgenesis in fish with promotors driving an over-production of growth hormone (GH) has resulted in dramatic growth enhancement in several species, including salmonids, carps and tilapias. These fish have been created for use in the aquaculture industry to increase meat production and, potentially, reduce fishing pressure on wild stocks. None of these GM fish have yet appeared on the market, mainly due to the concern expressed among the public of the fish's potential negative effect on the ecosystem should they escape from rearing facilities.

Transgenic animals used in psychological research


See also: Genetically modified food controversies

The use of GMOs has sparked significant controversy in many areas.[9] Some groups or individuals see the generation and use of GMO as intolerable meddling with biological states or processes that have naturally evolved over long periods of time, while others are concerned about the limitations of modern science to fully comprehend all of the potential negative ramifications of genetic manipulation.

While some groups advocate the complete prohibition of GMOs, others call for mandatory labeling of genetically modified food or other products. Other controversies include the definition of patent and property pertaining to products of genetic engineering and the possibility of unforeseen local and global effects as a result of transgenic organisms proliferating. The basic ethical issues involved in genetic research are discussed in the article on genetic engineering.

See also


  1. Cohen, SN et al (1973). Construction of Biologically Functional Bacterial Plasmids In Vitro. PNAS USA 70 (11): 3240-3244.
  2. Berg, P et al (1975). Summary statement of the Asilomar Conference on recombinant DNA molecules. PNAS USA 72 (6): 1981-1984., also Science 188, p. 991 (1975).
  3. "Guidelines for research involving recombinant DNA molecules," Federal Register 41, no. 131, pp. 27911-27943 (1976).
  4. (1978). The insulin synthesis is the first laboratory production DNA technology. Genentech. URL accessed on January 7 2009.
  5. Chemical & Engineering News, 16 February 2009, "Drug from Transgenic Goat Approved", p. 9
  6. Sathasivam K, Hobbs C, Mangiarini L, et al (June 1999). Transgenic models of Huntington's disease. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B, Biol. Sci. 354 (1386): 963–9.
  7. First Transgenic Mice and Fruit Flies
  8. Wagner J, Thiele F, Ganten D (May 1995). Transgenic animals as models for human disease. Clin. Exp. Hypertens. 17 (4): 593–605.
  9. [1]

External links


Transgenic animals

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